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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

How to Write: Tips from Margie Orford

The new Wordsetc cover - 'Crime' issue, featuring Margie Orford #tow10Like ClockworkBlood RoseDaddy's GirlMargie OrfordMargie Orford is best-known as a crime writer – her Clare Hart series, listed here, has gone ’round the world like a rocket – but she has a rather distinguished career writing other types of books, too, which began long before she was crowned SA’s “krimi queen” (cf. the brand-spanking-new Wordsetc – cover shown here). In this regard, we recommend Fabulously 40 and Beyond (with Karin Schimke), Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism: Stories from the Developing World (with Stefan Raubenheimer) and Fifteen Men (with the inmates of the Groot Drakenstein prison).

Here are Orford’s tips:

  1. It is not possible to set out to write a hit. Readers are smart: they can tell a con at fifty paces.
  2. So, feel with your body, write with your heart, edit with your head.
  3. Write about what you know, but if you don’t know something then go find it out.
  4. It takes a very long time to become an overnight success, so work harder than you ever thought possible.
  5. Then work some more.
  6. Don’t give up.
  7. Don’t complain.
  8. Just do it again.
  9. And then again.
  10. And if its not working? that thing about killing your darlings is true: if a chapter doesn’t fit, then cut it out, step over the blood and move on.
  • PS
    • What Margaret Atwood says about pencils is true. If you write when you fly don’t take a pen. They leak.
    • What Elmore Leonard said about cutting out the boring bits that readers skip is good advice. That includes adjectives. And adverbs. Zap the lot.
    • And Stephen King was right: if your characters are speaking then use ‘said.’ He said, she said, he said, she said. If your characters have to ‘grumble’ or ‘moan’ or effervesce’ you have failed. (see 10, then 5 – 9)

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How to Write: Tips from Niq Mhlongo

Inspired by the Guardian’s article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Niq MhlongoAfter TearsDog Eat DogNiq Mhlongo is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Dog Eat Dog – which, in Spanish translation, won the Mar des Lettras prize – and After Tears, both published by Kwela, an imprint of the NB group.

Read an excerpt from After Tears here.

Niq Mhlongo’s tips:

* * * * *

  1. Always write for yourself. Don’t listen to your publisher telling you to write for a particular audience.
  2. Delete every game on your PC or laptop before you get addicted.
  3. Write to express and not to impress. My first manuscript had absurd words such as inter alia, comprehend, and bourgeoisie. Maybe it’s because of the law thing that I was doing at that time, but now that I look at it I feel embarrassed.
  4. Avoid talking about your next project with your drinking buddies. South Africans always think that all writers are celebrities and millionaires.
  5. Do not try to write like your favorite author. Every writer has his or her own voice.
  6. The best way of not losing your work is to E-mail it to yourself every time you write something.
  7. Avoid people who want to give you their manuscripts to read and comment because this might distract you from your own project. Always refer them to your publisher.
  8. Keep your day job. Writing only makes you poorer.
  9. If you write in first person, people might call you by your main character’s name even at international writer conferences.
  10. If publishers reject your work, curse them in your heart and aim for self-publishing.

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How to Write: Tips from Lauren Beukes

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Lauren BeukesMoxylandMoxylandZoo CityLauren Beukes is one of the hottest tickets in SA Lit. Her first novel, Moxyland, published by Jacana, has blazed a trail in speculative fiction circles around the world, and has been picked up for publication in US, UK and Australia by the new Angry Robot imprint – which is also bringing out her second novel, Zoo City, later this year. Beukes is also the author of Maverick, a non-fiction work showcasing the more interesting women characters from South Africa’s past.

Lauren Beukes’ tips:

* * * * *

  1. Ideas are easy. Putting fingers to keyboard to get the words down is the hard part – and the only thing that counts. Writers write.
  2. You should have at least a vague idea of where you’re taking this thing. Write a detailed outline if it suits you. But don’t be afraid to veer off course. Allow for unexpected things to happen in the space between brain and page when a character becomes something other than you intended or an event unfolds in a different and usually more interesting way. Surprising myself is the most fun, exciting and rewarding part of writing for me.
  3. You know those first three chapters you’ve polished until they’re so shiny they can blind at 50 paces? Leave them alone. Stop stalling. Move on. Write the whole first draft and then go back and facelift and liposuction to your heart’s content. A rough-hewn finished book trumps three shiny chapters any day.
  4. Be disciplined. A sports psychologist friend who coaches the Springbok rugby team says there’s no such thing as motivation – no magic buoyancy to propel you through the hard work. It’s sheer bloody-mindedness to do this thing even when you really, really don’t want to.
  5. Research matters. So does experience. It brings life and depth and truth to your writing, even if your story is the most fantastical lie. If you can, get a day job or a hobby that exposes you to interesting things outside the everyday that will make your writing richer. Sure you might not qualify for NASA or the FBI, but you could do an astrophysics course at summer school or volunteer as a police reservist. Like many writers I’ve found journalism to be a great way to hone my writing and get a nifty backstage pass to strange and interesting places and people. If I’m sneaky, I can pitch articles that just so happen to coincide with research for my novel. I’d probably avoid advertising because while it’s a great place to practice smart, sharp writing and creative ideas, so many of my friends in the industry seem desperately unhappy.
  6. Learn how to take criticism. It’s a bit like juggling chainsaws. If you do it right, you’ll impress everybody. Do it wrong and it can be wounding, or, worse, you can lose your head. Choose your readers and editors with care and then listen to everything they have to say, even the nasty parts. If you’re feeling raw, take a few days or weeks to get over it and then look at the critiques again and take what you can use and disregard what you can’t and stand up for the stuff you believe in.
  7. Getting published is hard work. Do your research, pitch to the right kinds of agents and publishers, write a query letter that shines (it’s okay to polish this four million times as long as you send it out). Don’t give up, keep racking up the rejections and write something else in the meantime.
  8. But don’t think the hard work stops when you get the book deal. You’re not the only author in the stable and publishers are busy, busy, people. You’re going to have to be proactive and find innovative ways to promote your book.
  9. Be sociable. Make friends with writers and readers. The world has changed, it’s easier than ever to connect with interesting people through twitter, through blogs. Be active in the writing community, speak up, speak out, have a conversation, have an opinion. But don’t be an asshat.
  10. Be generous. I’ve had relative strangers reach out and do incredible favours for me that have meant the world to my writing and my career, often unasked. I try to return the favour where I can. This is not a moral obligation to read your ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s wannabe-Twilight novel featuring angsty high school swamp monsters instead of vampires (see Josh Olson’s “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” about how NOT to approach professional writers) but if you find a new writer whose words you believe in or a young talent to mentor or a literacy charity that could do with more volunteers, or you get asked to write ten tips on writing, and you have the time and space to help, do.

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Photo courtesy Victor Dlamini

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How to Write: Tips from Michiel Heyns

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Michiel HeynsThe Children's DayAgaatBodies PoliticMichiel Heyns, who writes in both English and Afrikaans, is the author of several novels – most recently, Bodies Politic, which won the Herman Charles Bosman award.

He is also a noted translator and won, with Marlene van Niekerk, the 2007 Sunday Times Fiction Prize for the English translation of van Niekerk’s Agaat.

Michiel Heyns’ tips:

* * * * *

  1. Don’t have a dog. A dog lies there looking at you reproachfully just when you’ve settled down to your writing day.
  2. Get a dog. A dog keeps your feet warm when the rest of the world’s gone to bed.
  3. Try to write when the rest of the world’s gone to bed or before the rest of the world’s got up: there are fewer distractions, and the sense of virtue is good for your ego.
  4. Feed your ego all it requires, because it’s the part of you that takes the knocks in a writing life.
  5. A writing life is life, though it doesn’t always feel like one. At times it’s even better than life.
  6. On the relation between literature and life: don’t think about it, it comes naturally. Listen to what somebody called the boys in the basement: your subconscious. It’s not news that writing draws on your subconscious, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had the experience of your characters acquiring a life of their own. By the same token, said Norman Mailer (I think), writer’s block happens when you ask the subconscious to deliver something you haven’t primed it with. So live all you can, as Henry James said. It’s a mistake not to.
  7. But the subconscious can’t spell, construct sentences or punctuate. That’s the superego’s job. Give him plenty of scope. There are a few writers who have managed to persuade the world that their illiteracy is art, but you probably won’t get away with it. So respect the rules that you were told would stifle your creativity: they merely make it accessible to others.
  8. You will have been told, as a rule, to avoid adjectives or adverbs or both, but nobody will have told you why. That’s because there’s no real reason. If irresistible adjectives come naturally to you, indulge them; if adverbs run trippingly off your pen, let them be. But then edit.
  9. Edit, edit, edit. Yes, first thoughts are often best, but they usually need to be licked into shape. Athena may have sprung fully-formed from Zeus’ brow, but you’re not Zeus. Yet. Keep at it.
  10. Keep at it.

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How to Write: Tips from Zakes Mda

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Book Signing - Zakes MdaWays of DyingBlack DiamondThe Heart of RednessZakes Mda is one of South Africa’s most prolific and critically-acclaimed playwrights and novelists. His best-known books are Ways of Dying and The Heart of Redness – and he was recently the subject of a new work of criticism, Ways of Writing, out from UKZN Press. Mda’s latest book is Black Diamond, published by Penguin.

Zakes Mda’s tips:

* * * * *

1. Show, don’t tell. Humbug! You do need to tell as well. Effective storytelling is a balancing act between showing and telling, otherwise all stories would be in real time.

2. Write what you know. Humbug again! Otherwise all our stories would be about our own miserable little selves and nothing else.

3. The most compelling of stories are not made of big moments and sweeping gestures, but are an accumulation of small moments.

4. Waiting for inspiration? You will wait forever. Write and write and write again. Inspiration will find you on the way.

5. Write anywhere and everywhere: in the kitchen as you prepare meals for the family, at the train station, in the plane, in the bedroom between bouts of lovemaking. Solitude is a luxury you can’t afford.

6. Avoid reading thrash. It is infectious and will creep into your own writing. Read only writers whose work you admire.

7. Do explore and search for unsung writers. You never know what gems you’ll find between those covers. However if a novel doesn’t engage you in the first five pages discard it. Life is too short.

8. Be a shameless eavesdropper.

9. Have lots of kids. They are a source for rich material.

10. Don’t judge your characters; leave the judging to the reader.

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How to Write: Tips from SA Partridge

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

SA PartridgeThe Goblet ClubFuseSally-Ann Partridge is the author of The Goblet Club, which won the MER Youth Prize in 2008, and Fuse. Her third novel is forthcoming from Human & Rousseau, an imprint of the NB group.

SA Partridge’s tips:

* * * * *

1. The hardest part of writing a novel is finishing it, but once you reach the end there is no greater feeling of accomplishment.

2. That said, put the finished manuscript away and forget about it. Go back with a fresh perspective and begin your second draft.

4. Avoid cliche.

5. Don’t try and re-write a book that’s already been written. It was already perfect the first time. Come up with your own, unique idea.

6. Read as much as you can. Reading increases your vocabulary and is the best source of inspiration, especially the classics.

7. There is no right and wrong way. Practice makes perfect.

8. Don’t write for money. If you don’t write for love, it’s not worth doing. If you want to write for a living, move to America and join James Patterson’s writing staff.

9. Having a cat is a almost definitely a prerequisite.

10. Luck does happen.

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How to Write: Tips from Andrew Brown

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Andrew BrownColdsleep LullabyStreet BluesRefugeAndrew Brown is the author of Coldsleep Lullaby, which won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and Street Blues, which was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. His most recent novel is Refuge.

Andrew Brown’s tips:

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1. Write where you know: characters and plot have to play out on a believable stage. In some novels that stage is a bland generic canvas that contributes little to the reader’s experience. But a well-constructed setting can anchor a story and provide the reader with a sense of place; it can also make the writing itself easier, as characters can move around the stage with greater confidence. Set your writing in a place you know – if you don’t know it, go there.

2. Write who you know: You can only write about what you know, and when it comes to characterisation, you only know yourself. You may have to draw deep to find the emotional source for some characters, but no matter how troubling that may be, ultimately you have the comfort of knowing that neither your hero nor your dark and bloody protagonist are in fact you.

3. Don’t get cute: Sometimes a twist in a plot can be too clever for its own good. A good editor will eradicate it (mine did, thank goodness) and spare you the embarrassment, but it’s better not to end up there in the first place.

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ReadSA Profile: Richard de Nooy

Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus ShotRichard de NooyMY BOOK: Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot (Jacana)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two accident-prone brothers leave a trail a carnage scattered across two continents in their vain attempt to stay out of trouble.

WHO’LL LOVE IT: It’s Jackass for intellectuals, so almost anyone with a brain cell to spare will probably enjoy the brothers’ antics and perceive the underlying tragedy.

WHERE TO GET IT: It used to rub shoulders with J.M. Coetzee on African Fiction shelves in most book shops, but JMC apparently needed more space. Stray copies have been spotted here and there, but it’s definitely an endangered species in the wild. It’s available online at Kalahari and Amazon almost everywhere.

ABOUT AUTHOR: Born in Holland in 1965, grew up in South Africa, but re-emigrated to Holland in 1986 when offered the dubious honour of full SA citizenship, which then included two years of fun in the sun with heavy artillery.

Studied psychology at the University of Amsterdam to confirm that I wasn’t afflicted with anything serious, only to contradict this vehemently by opting to become a translator as a means of funding my writing. Still suffering the consequences of that misguided decision.

CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Amsterdam, Netherlands, which sadly offers a lot less sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll than initially anticipated. Rain, on the other hand, is in no short supply.

AUTHOR’ S CLAIM TO FAME: Winner of the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book in 2007. Honourable mention for the M-Net Literary Award 2007. Longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2007. Recipient of a grant from the Dutch Foundation for Literature to write my new novel in Dutch.

WHEN WRITING: I am as irritable as a warthog sharing a burrow with a porcupine. My family hates me, my friends don’t call, and I constantly have to suppress the urge to insult people online. There are those who claim that the above also applies when I’m not writing.

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ReadSA Profile: Louis Greenberg

The Beggars' SignwritersKathryn White and Louis GreenbergMy book: The Beggars’ Signwriters, Umuzi, 2006.

Who won’t like it, and who might: Some negative feedback came from people with an innate aversion to whining artists, directionless characters and overlapping plotlines. Other readers enjoyed it for the very same reasons or for others. So if you like whining, libidinous artists, are perhaps directionless, and want the overlapping stories of your sex life and love life and creative life and immigration life slowed down for just a few hours, give it a go.

Where to get it: It’s soon to be an out-of-print collector’s item but it’s still going cheap online. You’ll also get it at the Read SA book sale at Arts on Main in December. Your next chance will probably be on the sale tables.

What’s next?: I’m glad you asked. I’ve edited a compilation of fabulous and fresh South African writing called Home Away. In it, South African immigrants and emigrants consider South Africa from non-South-African cities all over the world. It’s made up of 24 stories over 24 hours, and is called Home Away. It will be published by Zebra Press in April 2010.

I’m also co-writing a horror novel with Sarah Lotz, the zombie queen of the South, and a PhD, and I plan to finish my next novel about whining artists at the end of 2010. This time I don’t take it for granted that anyone will publish it. Watch this space, and hold thumbs.

Five now-public secrets about my writing persona
1. I am trying to end a work-time addiction to Oreos which is senseless because they’re not even that nice as biscuits go.
2. My therapist lives in my office; it is a pewter sparrow called Birdie and I turn to it in times of crisis.
3. I juggle my writing, editing and website jobs on a R39 whiteboard from Mr Price Home. Fully a quarter of the whiteboard is taken up by the words “WHITE BOARD”
4. I act my age; I am a facebook person rather than a twitterer.
5. I am sometimes ashamed by how slowly I read.

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ReadSA Profile: Megan Voysey-Braig

Till We Can Keep An AnimalPrevious Winner: Megan Voysey-Braig

BOOK: Till we can keep an animal (Jacana)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A middle-aged woman who was attacked, raped and murdered in her home by armed robbers. I keep her alive so that her story continues. I invite her family members, those who are alive and dead, to tell their stories through her.

WHO’LL LOVE IT: People with strong constitutions. People who at best, find life all folly, and at worst, intolerable. People who have experienced crime, and have lost through crime, maybe love is a strong word, maybe people would feel touched, or held in some way. It seems too, to be popular in certain academic circles.

WHERE TO GET IT: Most book shops in South Africa. Online you will find it at,  and

Megan Voysey-Briag

ABOUT AUTHOR: I grew up in Krugersdorp (shhh don’t tell anyone!). Aged 33. Greying like an old woman, even my father is beginning to laugh.

CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Berlin, Germany. There is a lot of Wurst here and electric blue eye-shadow.

AUTHOR’ S CLAIM TO FAME: Winner of the European Union literary award 2007/2008. Shortlisted for the Commonwealth writers prize for Best first Book Africa region 2009. Longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2009.

WHEN WRITING: I am attached to a pair of headphones, and I wear a beanie, well and clothes too. I know writing is an intimate thing but…

The beanie keeps the thoughts together and allows me to experiment with hair styles at the same time. I have heard, that wearing a hat, woolly or otherwise can lead to premature balding. I have noticed this and it scares me, or is it the writing that causes it?

The words don’t happen without music. It is the rhythm and the emotions they evoke that I am after, like a desperado- even if this rhythm happens to arrive in the form of Theuns Jordaan’s “Beaufort Wes” repeated a few hundred times.

I write sadness without the option of taking a “mother’s little helper” or a shot of Novocaine(though I am trying to work something out with my dentist) and I thank my readers for taking the harrowing journey with me.

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